Women of Power

Louisville Magazine

Louisville Magazine cover, January 2007

Cover Story

Women of Power (individual profiles)

By Robyn Davis Sekula

Louisville Magazine | January 2007

Denise Ivey

The power of newspapers became crystal-clear to Denise Ivey when she was serving as publisher of the Pensacola News Journal in Pensacola, Fla., during Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The city’s sewer plant failed and dumped 30 million gallons of raw sewage in and around the Journal’s building. Parts of the roof came off. About 30 percent of the newspaper’s staff lost their homes during the powerful storm, and Ivey lived at the paper for a month while power was being restored at her residence.

Ivey’s dedicated staff posted news on the paper’s website as they found it. The paper put almost 2,000 photos online, renting any available helicopter it could find to get the best views of the devastation. The website received some 90 million page views during the two weeks following Ivan, and the delivery of the newspaper’s print version to Pensacola residents became a much-heralded event every day for weeks following the storm. “There was no TV,” recalls Ivey, 56. “There was no radio. When those carriers brought those newspapers, it was the most important thing in the world to those people.”

Pensacola was Ivey’s third publishing job. Her fourth is publisher of the Courier-Journal and president of the mid-South division for the Gannett chain, in which she presides over nine other newspapers in addition to the C-J. Her tasks at the Louisville daily are to boost ad revenue and to connect with readers in new ways.

Ivey is encouraging the paper’s staff to fully embrace the Web, having them post news as they find it rather than holding it for print-edition deadlines. She’s also introducing a new tool that will allow anyone to put information on the paper’s Internet site, which will include press releases and neighborhood events. She’s dividing the localized Neighborhoods sections into smaller geographical segments, and doing something similar on the website. That allows advertisers to target specific neighborhoods more effectively, both through newspaper and Web advertising.

Ivey says she wants to spend 2007 getting more involved in Louisville. Divorced, with an adult son, she knows the struggles of young mothers, especially single moms, and would like to assist with causes relating to them as well as preparing children to enter school. She also has a special interest in Habitat for Humanity, having seen Pensacola rebuild following Ivan. “I’ve watched people become homeless and lose everything,” Ivey says. “Habitat is exceptionally important in Pensacola.”

Robyn Davis Sekula

Laura Lee Brown

For Laura Lee Brown, there is beauty everywhere — some created by nature and some by men and women. Observing it and making it part of everyday life has shaped much of her recent career as a developer and land preservationist.

Brown, 65, is the co-owner of 21C Museum Hotel and Proof On Main, the new hotel and restaurant featuring contemporary art in downtown Louisville that have been receiving rave reviews from national travel writers. She’s also one of four developers of Museum Plaza, which likely will also keep Louisville in the national spotlight. That project is a 61-story skyscraper that will incorporate loft apartments, condominiums, a hotel, offices and an art museum, plus some retail and restaurant components — essentially a city center along the riverfront. That project is expected to be complete in 2010.

Brown says she’d like to next take the 21C model to Austin, Texas, and has already been looking at property there. The 21C and Museum Plaza projects accomplish a major objective of Brown’s: to incorporate art into everyday life. “It’s that combination of art, which people think of as something you look at when you have extra time, and making it part of the business day,” Brown says. “People can walk in off the street on their lunch break, get what they need and walk away.”

As much as she’s been involved in bringing style to city life, Brown has rural roots too. She lives on Woodland Farm in Oldham County, where she owns Kentucky Bison Co. with husband Steve Wilson, who is also involved in the downtown projects. In addition, the couple helped found Oldham Ahead, a land-conservancy group. They have three grown children, all involved in teaching or making plans to enter that field.

Brown, a great-granddaughter of Brown-Forman founder George Garvin Brown, says she was inspired to get involved in land-conservancy issues from her own childhood in Prospect, when she began to observe dramatic changes in that community. She also is making some amends. “When my mother died in 1983, we sold the farm to a developer in 1985, and that’s been a terrible regret ever since,” Brown says. “I was able to buy back about 40 of the bottom acres and give them back to the county as the Garvin Brown Preserve. They were going to turn the bottom land into a marina, and I couldn’t imagine it.”

Her downtown projects, she says, serve at least in part to encourage more compact city living. “I will do everything I can to help people be comfortable downtown so that we can try to prevent sprawl as much as possible,” Brown says.


Mary Moseley

A few years ago, Mary Moseley’s to-do list may have been the most daunting in the local hotel industry. Now her list of accomplishments is growing measurably and that original list is getting shorter. Moseley, 58, is president of the Al J. Schneider Cos., which owns the Galt House Hotel and other properties in Louisville. Moseley’s father, the legendary developer and hotelier Al Schneider, who died in 2001, appointed her the president of the company shortly before his passing.

His properties were in need of some sprucing up, by all accounts, and that’s exactly what Moseley set out to do. She spearheaded a $60 million renovation of the Galt House Hotel. Other properties have received a similar overhaul, including renovations at the Executive West and Waterfront Plaza Tower Three, an office tower built by her father but never finished on the interior. “I can’t tell you how many times during the day when I say I wish I had five minutes with him,” Moseley says of her father. “I would have so many questions.”


Even with such a busy schedule, she’s serving on a variety of boards, including Greater Louisville Inc., the Louisville and Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Development Corp., YPAL Advisory Board and Leadership Center, and Home of the Innocents.


Thelma Ferguson

During the first 18 months of Thelma Ferguson’s tenure as president of Chase Kentucky, she’s learned two things: how to delegate and to be passionate about what you do. “If you aren’t passionate about your job, whatever it is, you can’t do it well, and you can’t really lead others and convince them they need to do it well either,” Ferguson says of heading a regional operation of Chase that makes it one of the largest banks in Louisville. “Working for a company like JP Morgan Chase is a fairly exciting thing. It’s a global organization, but we have the opportunity to tie in to local communities.”

Tied-in is a great way to describe Ferguson, 48. Married with one daughter, she has managed to find the time to serve on Greater Louisville Inc.’s executive committee, the University of Louisville College of Business board of trustees, and the boards of Fund for the Arts, Women4Women, Leadership Louisville Center and Kentucky Country Day School. The bank also lends support to Junior Achievement of Kentuckiana, the Louisville Orchestra and the National Center for Family Literacy, among other efforts.

With the merger of Bank One and Chase complete, Ferguson’s 2007 goal is to grow the bank’s business and to lead a further charge into her home state of Tennessee. Ferguson says the job suits her. “I cannot say enough good things,” Ferguson says. “Not only would you hear that from me; I think you would find that from anyone on my employee base or my team. It’s great to work for a company with such strong morale.”


Alice Houston

For Alice Houston, the key to power is organization — even at unexpected moments. On a trip to Denver last fall sponsored by Greater Louisville Inc., the local chamber of commerce, Houston used the three-hour plane ride to Christmas shop. She pulled out her laptop, opened a spread sheet and culled through a stack of catalogs, plotting what to buy everyone on her Christmas gift list. “When many different roles are important to you — whether it’s being a parent and a wife and a community leader and a business owner — you have to be pretty organized in order to juggle all of the balls or be able to wear all of the hats,” she says.


Houston, 60, is president and CEO of Houston-Johnson Inc., a logistics and warehousing firm with 80 employees in Louisville. Along with her husband Wade, a former basketball coach at the universities of Louisville and Tennessee, she launched the company in 1987 and became its top officer in 2005. Houston is also the 2007 chairman of the GLI board of directors.

Houston’s list of volunteer activities shows her commitment to Louisville. She is currently serving on the Louisville Arena Authority, the organization tasked with making Louisville’s long-held dreams of a new indoor facility a reality. “I think it’s going to be one of many wonderful projects that will go on in the next decade that will add to economic vibrancy of the community,” she says.

She’s also president of the Louisville chapter of The Links Inc., a networking and community service organization for African-American women. That organization’s key project in 2007, Houston says, is focused on the Parkhill Community Center, 1703 S. 13th St., taking an active role in the lives of people who attend programs there and creating new opportunities for them. For GLI, Houston’s goal for 2007 is to make the organization more diverse. “I hope to be able to further embrace diversity in all of its components — age, race, sex, diversity of businesses — because we all bring different things that make this community vibrant,” she says.


Christine Johnson

Throw the name of a community leader at Christine Johnson, president of the Leadership Louisville Center, and it’s highly likely she’ll know that person, and well. In her 15 years as head of the Leadership Louisville operations, she’s become acquainted with members of each annual class of “leaders” who come through the organization’s programs, as well as the community movers and shakers who have served on her board or supported the organization through grants and gifts.

Expanding on the signature Leadership Louisville program of community involvement indoctrination for professionals, Johnson, 55, has created new offerings — one as short as a half-day that introduces newcomers to the area, another an intense six-month program created just for young professionals, with several others in between. “We are a community leadership organization,” she says, “so we want to educate people about the community and community issues.

Johnson was born in Detroit but grew up mostly in Louisville and started out professional life as the first female sports reporter at the Courier-Journal. She soon transitioned into public relations, which she did for 13 years before going to work for Leadership Louisville. She serves on the boards of Louisville Collegiate School, Greater Louisville Inc., the Young Professional Association of Louisville and Actors Theatre.

In 2007, Johnson’s focus will be largely on the Bingham Fellows project, which is seeking ways to get the community involved in a $25 million G.E. Foundation grant for math and science instruction in the Jefferson County Public Schools. She also wants her organization to build a “Facebook”-style website that will allow Leadership Louisville alums to post information about their community interests in hopes of connecting them with key community needs.

Johnson says the job continues to suit her. “I’ve always said it was the best job in Louisville,” Johnson says. “It really is, in the sense that I could be talking to a CEO one day and in a distressed neighborhood the next day, talking to people who are on the front lines of teen violence. . . . It’s a high-energy job for sure. People see my quiet demeanor and don’t realize how fast my feet are going under the water.”


Phoebe A. Wood

As a corporate nomad, Phoebe A. Wood, 53, knows the importance of making connections. Wood is executive vice president and chief financial officer of Brown-Forman Corp., but she makes time for community involvement and to help others integrate into the community. Wood held a reception for Courier-Journal president and publisher Denise Ivey when the latter moved to Louisville in 2006. And she hosted a potluck lunch for Louisville graduates of the “Seven Sisters” colleges in the Northeast. (Wood is a Smith College alum and sits on the college’s board of trustees.) “One of the things I like to do is gather people together,” she says. “I try to do that as much as I can.”

Wood has lived in Louisville for five years following stints in London, Anchorage (Alaska), Houston, Los Angeles and Dallas. In her five years with Brown-Forman, Wood has helped the company finance four major acquisitions. In the community, she serves on the boards of the Leadership Louisville Center, Gheens Foundation Inc. and Louisville Collegiate School Board of Trustees. Wood says she knows her limitations. “I have to acknowledge my role as a very senior executive at Brown-Forman and my role as a parent,” she says. “I don’t want to hurt my performance in either job.”